Glass Ceiling in the Military Must Be Shattered

      September 16, 2010 13:22

      The Defense Ministry has chosen Sookmyung Women's University as Korea's first university to operate the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program for women, and six of the universities with the ROTC program for men are allowed to take in five female cadets from this year. The first group of female ROTC cadets will be commissioned into service in 2013.

      The ministry plans to expand the number of commissioned female officers from the current 4.3 percent (3,111 officers) to 7.7 percent over the next 10 years, while increasing the number of non-commissioned female officers from 2.9 percent (3,051 officers) to 5.5 percent. Women account for 16 percent of the officers in the U.S. military, 8.1 percent in the U.K. and 13 percent in France.

      The Korean military must open its doors further to qualified women to keep abreast of the growing importance of technology, computers, automated systems and communications networks in the military. As of 2008, women accounted for 42 percent of 894,987 public servants. The Air Force Academy admitted its first female cadet in 1997 and the Military and Navy academies followed suit in 1998 and 1999. At first, there was skepticism over the moves, but the graduation of skilled female officers has brought new vigor to the military.

      Korea's birthrate stands at only 1.15 children. That is the lowest in the world and leads to a decline in the number of eligible male recruits, triggering intense debate over whether to lengthen or shorten mandatory military service. The women’s ROTC program could offer a solution to this manpower dilemma.

      But the government should look at more than numbers if female officers are to present genuine solutions. It must let female officers harbor big aspirations.

      In the U.S., Ann Elizabeth Dunwoody became the first female four-star generals as commanding general for the Army Material Command in 2008. But Korea has seen only five female generals in its military history since a nursing commander became the country's first female general in 2002. They were all from the nursing corps and reached no rank higher than major general. The only current active-duty female general is the president of the Armed Forces Nursing Academy. If women are to become part of the core of our military, the glass ceiling must be shattered so that they can become generals in combat and other commands too.

      Korea's female soldiers mark 60 years of service this year. The new milestones will mark new achievements for the entire military.

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